Chapter 3

Music for Gathering

There are no rules for choosing funeral music. Do you want to play soulful tunes that stirs the heart or a favored rock band that communicates, “this is not the normal fare”? You might consider using a playlist of favorite songs of the deceased. Still, some people choose hymns. With careful selection you can design the perfect soundtrack for your remembrance. To help the service flow you may wish the first song to express sadness and loss, the second selection to be more uplifting and hopeful, and a closing inspirational song that helps the guests depart. One, two or three musical selections –it’s all correct. 

Background music as people arrive helps set the mood for the service to come. I prefer to play soft background instrumental music or have your musician perform quieter pieces to encourage conversation. This track can range from the orchestrated works of Beethoven, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky, and Chopin to more recent musician such as of Enya or the popular music of Chant. 

Selecting a particular piece of music to begin the service is one way you can help everyone settle into a quieter moment of preparation.  

Here are words that you might want to use as you introduce a musical selection at the beginning of the service:

“Before we begin I invite you to listen to [song title] sung of course by [artist]. This was a particular favorite of [Name] and I suspect she/he shared the sentiments expressed in the lyrics.”

“We are going to begin by listening to [title and artist]. This was a particular favorite of [Name] and they choose it especially for this occasion.”

“As we planned today we decided that [title and artist] would be the perfect tribute as we begin this time of remembrance for [Name].” 

“As we begin, hear the poem [‘Title’] by [Poet].”

If I should die before the rest of you,
Break not a flower, nor inscribe a stone,
Nor, when I’m gone, speak in a Sunday voice,
But be the usual selves that I have known,
Weep if you must:
Parting is hell,
But life goes on
So . . . sing as well!” 
Then continue by playing the selected song.  

With so many choices available, turning to traditional songs for the funeral may make things less stressful. Traditional songs are timeless classics that have been recorded dozens of times. They are familiar to most and usually rekindle some memory. I have listed a few titles along with the lyricist or songwriter as well as a popular recording artist.   

Amazing Grace - John Newton – Recording by Aretha Franklin

Danny Boy - Frederick Weatherly – Recording by Roger Whittaker

What a Wonderful World - Bob Thiele, George David Weiss – Recorded by Louis Armstrong

Unforgettable - Irving Gordon – Recorded by Nat King Cole

Selections that are more recent are also appropriate as well as recent musical artists’ interpretation of traditional songs. 

I Will Remember You - Sarah McLachlan – Recording by Sarah McLachlan

The Prayer - David Foster, Carole Bayer Sager, Alberto Testa, Tony Renis – Recorded by Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli

Wind Beneath My Wings - Jeff Silbar, Larry Henley – Recorded by Bette Midler

Somewhere Over the Rainbow - Yip Harburg – Recorded by Judy Garland

Someone to Watch Over Me - Ira and George Gershwin – Recorded by Willie Nelson

Once you choose a song there are many versions from which to select.  For example, the Irish ballad listed above, Danny Boy has been recorded dozens of times – from sung versions and instrumentals to chorales. The version you select is entirely up to you. 

Perhaps live jazz or bluegrass was a favorite in which a local band could be obtained. One home funeral I facilitated chose their father’s favorite; Frank Sinatra’s recording of "I Did It My Way" causing the roomful of friends to erupt in affectionate laughter.  Gerschwin, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim and Scott Joplin can all be considered. "Imagine," by John Lennon, is another international favorite.

To be practical in all situations, I use my cell phone or my laptop computer and download my selections in the order they will be played. Then all someone has to do it click the correct song. If you are concerned about volume, you can get a small external speaker to be sure the sound will be sufficiently amplified.   

Whatever your choice of music, let the audience know that the selected song is important and explain why. In the end, as long as you choose music that is respectful and honors the person you are memorializing, it’s all good.